The government might issue specific directives on garment industry workers' pay for April as most of the factories have laid off staff during the shutdown.
The directives might announce a 70-percent basic pay – instead of 50 percent as per the labour law – along with other allowances for the workers, according to sources.
The labour and employment ministry has already received a directive from government high-ups over the workers' wages in export-oriented industries.
Sources also said the ministry has already sent a draft to all stakeholders concerned and it will be formalised within the week. The business leaders had a final meeting with the ministry in this regard.
The factory layoffs issue may raise another difficulty for workers to get their bonuses for the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr.
However, industry sources said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked business leaders to consider the issue on humanitarian grounds – beyond the law.
The government would like to devalue the taka against the US dollar, despite the pressure of inflation, to provide breathing space for the export-oriented industries. Business leaders also agreed to that during their meeting with the prime minister last week.
However, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) officials said around 80 percent of the garment factories have laid off their workers, following the relevant law, because of the Covid-19 shutdown.
According to the labour law, the workers working for less than one year will not receive any salary during the layoff period. However, the rest will get half their basic salaries along with other benefits.
As a result, a regular garment worker at the lowest grade of wages – Tk8,300 – would be able to get Tk4,565 per month during the layoff.
"However, given the pandemic situation, we have decided to pay our workers 60 percent of their gross salaries, which is about five percent higher than the legal obligation," said BGMEA Vice President Arshad Jamal Dipu.
"If we follow the labour law, there is no such thing as general holidays. Our prime minister asked us to consider the workers' payment issue from a humanitarian point of view," he added.
Arshad Jamal further said they want their workers to be fairly solvent during this crisis. "However, we should also ensure the business does not lose its capacity."
A director of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) also acknowledged the prime minister's directives on the workers' payment.
"Now, we are looking to the directives of the labour and employment ministry. A government circular is necessary as the issue contradicts the existing law to some degree," the BKMEA director added.
However, State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Mannujan Sufian, in a meeting with industrial entrepreneurs on Saturday, said no factory can declare layoffs and no workers can be terminated during the novel coronavirus situation.
Before that, the central bank issued a circular, saying the export-oriented industries would not get any benefit from the government's Tk5,000-crore stimulus package if they declared layoffs during the ongoing shutdown.
The government has formed the special fund so that workers in the export-oriented sectors do not lose their jobs – and owners can receive loans at a rate of just two percent service charge plus pay the wages of workers for three months.